- Introduction of the artist
- Discussion and analysis of Jackie Karuti's "A helmet for me and another one for you"
1.Introduction of the artist
Jackie Karuti, also known as Jackie the third, is a Kenyan performance and installation artist and painter. She studied graphic and multimedia design in her hometown of Nairobi. Themes that she covers in her work include identity, gender and urban culture. Her methods of working on this, and other topics, are very versatile. She uses digital media for her installation art, video performances, photography and film projects as well as other media for drawing, painting and writing. She has a great interest in explore new techniques and working modes across different disciplines. As for her sources of inspiration she mentioned in an interview urban culture, female form, books, films and music. Jacky has already exhibited in different countries, for example in Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and the U.S.A.. She is the recipient of the Moving Africa grant of the Goethe Institute (2014), artist in residence at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg (2014) and artist in residence at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos (2012). In social media she, as an artist, is very present. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, Kuona Trust and on her own website: http://thirdroomstudios.com/.
Jackie Karuti lives and works in Nairobi.
2. Discussion and analysis of Jackie Karuti's "A helmet for me and another one for you"
The following section deals with the description and the analysis of Jackie Karutis’s painting series "Helmet ladies". She created the four pictures in 2013 and published them first on her blog thethirdroomstudios.blogspot.de. All paintings show nearly the same motive but in different modifications. They do not have to be regarded as a set of four; every picture is a self-contained artwork. They are all drawn in a similar style and are reminiscent of a stencil graffiti on a wall. This connection brings to mind urban culture which Karuti mentioned in an interview with Sanaa Mtaani as an important source of inspiration. This is interesting, because graffiti as a form of expression for artists in a urban context is not location specific like an atelier. So it can appear everywhere. Of cause the location and the scope can be very significantly and decisive, even for the complete message or understanding of the graffiti. But as art and a form of expression it is nearly everywhere possible to find, so it is in this sense not tied to a specific location.
The pictures show the upper part of female bodies that are made anonymous by helmet-like features. One can identify the woman by the naked breasts under which the bodies end. Just like stencil graffiti there are no greater details except from the ears, the nipples and the clavicle. The figures are marked by dark outlines. This style of painting makes the pictured figures anonymous and nondescript.
The first picture in the set is the only one that shows just one person. One can see the upper part of a (female) body which is forward facing with a helmeted head which is turned sideways and upwards. Here, there are just two colours in slight variations, a warm-yellow background and black outlines that border the figure. I addition, the helmet is encircled by a small line of bronze paste. This blends well with the background colour.
Of all the four, this picture looks the most like graffiti on a wall due to the full-filled background and the use of just one other colour. Because of the soft segues and harmonizing colours, the picture seems very well balanced.
The second picture shows the same representation of a woman, the upper part of the body and a helmet on the head. However this time there is not just one woman but eight women standing next to each other. They are placed in the upper part of the picture and their bodies end underneath the breasts with thin lines of colour running out towards the bottom of the image.The background is just filled in the upper part behind the women's hands and over their heads and shoulders. There are no colours behind the colourlines, just the blank canvas. The filled background is much more agitated in the first picture as there are more colour variations with yellow and black. Because of the background, the plurality of the woman and the irregularly running lines covering half of the canvas, the painting looks much more restless and thrilling than the first one. The women’s heads are also turned sideways, but because there is more than one it suggests that they are looking at each other or turning away from each other. There is only a very small gap between the mouth part of the helmets. This vicinity creates the impression of a very trustful and lovely relation between the women. It could also originate the impression of the directly moment before a kiss which would increase the trusty relation. But the fact that where are wearing helmets creates nevertheless a certain distance. They never can touch or kiss directly, because every time where is still the helmet which obstruct.
The third picture seems to be like the second with an increase of thrill and restlessness. Here, there are just five women, this time shown with only their lower body part. However, there are still colour-runned lines, this time it is the coloured background in the top part of the picture which looks like heaven or clouds from which it is raining. This kind of colour-line-rain falls right on top of the women whose heads turn sideways facing each other. There are two couples that seem to tenderly touch with the part of the helmet that indicates the mouth. The fifth single woman is kissing an indicated partner . This touch looks like a loving kiss. The fact that this imaging partner is just implied with the color red and black make the connection of the couple lifted up from the others. It seems more mysteriously and hidden.
In this picture there is, next to yellow, white and black, the colour red. The assumption that the colour-lines could symbolize rain gives the picture a depressing touch, although it is not so strong because of the bright colors. The contrast of the bright background and the dark outlines of the figures highlight them extra.
The fourth picture is very different from the first impression. The contrast of the colours is much more aggressive because of a brighter yellow and the blurred red. The women are placed in the middle of the picture and, similar to the second, the bodies end in colour-runned lines. There are again five women, but for the first time the middle one looks at the viewer directly. The two couples on her side touch or kiss each other again. Because of the direct connection to the observer and the eye contact it seems as if the picture is more directed to the public than the pictures before. The face of the watching woman is not distinct; one cannot see any distinguishable features such as the eyes or the mouth. Nevertheless, she is facing right into the observer’s eye making the contact anonymous, mysterious and a bit ominous.
The fact that the women are helmeted but the rest of their bodies is naked is very interesting. The nacked upper part of their bodies appears very unprotected. Especially the female body with the breast appears in need of protection, because the potential source of mother's milk is so present. The heads are not just protected by a hat or a smaller helmet, but with a helmet which covers the complete head, additional with a chin protector. This could be seen as an overprotection of the head, symbol for the mind, opinion and personality. Viewing the head alone, it is gender unspecific. But the naked body is marked as a female body. So it could be seen as a strong protection of the mind and in contrast, an open view of the female specific body feature. This way of interpretation imply the more important meaning of a unscathed mind than an protected (gender specific) body.
Looking at the pictures in this order they appear to be telling a short scene. The first picture, the illustration of the single woman's head, is like an introduction to her, an introduction to a certain personality. The second picture shows that person in her surroundings and her integration in a group . This is then deepened in the third image, where the integration into and the basic mood of the group is shown in more detail. This seems like a very loving, emotional and gentle one in a cold and restless surrounding. In the last picture it seems as if the person is directly speaking to or asking something of the viewer, it feels like this is asking a provocative question or making a clear statement. Everyone could have their own interpretation of what this statement or question is.
3. Interview with Jackie Karuti
1) When did you start to deal with womanhood in a cognizant way? Was there a trigger for it?
First of all we’d have to define what womanhood is. It is the state or condition of being a woman or the qualities considered to be natural to or characteristic of a woman. It’s not something I had to deal with. There really was no trigger for it. It was just me gradually realizing that how I chose to identify as, had nothing to do with my gender. I also realized that through my work I had the best tools or weapons needed to bring forth that message.
2) Do you think that womanhood for you, as an African female artist, means something else than for us, German students?
It’s unfortunate that you describe me as an African and you as a German but not European. Therein lies the problem. We cannot equate what affects me as a woman born in Kenya to a situation of a woman born in South Africa, Ghana or Morocco despite all these countries being in Africa. I do think womanhood as you call it has a different meaning depending on where in the world you are in. Its definition is universal but because of differences in culture, societal upbringing and general politics of the land, these definition differs.
3) How do you negotiate womanhood in your art? How do you present it? In you painting „A helmet for me and another one for you“ you show female bodies. What kind of attributes do you use for that, not just in this painting, but in general? Are these attributes typically female?
That particular painting was a series on three paintings with the same title looking at how women are perceived especially in my society. This is usually as sen(x)sual beings. The helmet is a metaphor and in this case used as symbol for protection. Women are viewed as objects and property in a number of cultures. They’re to be seen and not to be heard, to be mocked and abused in every sense and that is why they have to walk around with these helmets everywhere they go which doesn’t ever have to be the case. The title is demonstrative of all of us looking out for each other because we are able to relate and empathize with somebody else’s situation despite differences in our culture and or societal upbringing. The attributes as you say are not typically female. Nothing is or should be typically female. Or male for that matter. We’ve just been socially conditioned to think, be or act that way.
4) How can you mediate about precarious topics like sozio-political or other tabooed themes in Kenya? Do you think art is a good and efficient way to mediate these topics?
There are many ways that one can approach and highlight these topics but for me art is the only way because it’s my way of life, hence it comes naturally. What I create is how I ultimately live. I can’t say it’s always good because in some cases it has been very uncomfortable, disturbing and even dangerous to other people. But that’s the role of an artist. He, she or they must possess a courageous soul. One that dares and defies.
5) Who is the audience of you your art, who do you want to reach?
I don’t have a specific target audience except maybe for that person whose approach to life is very banal. In a sense though I am the receiver of my art without even knowing it. It’s a very cathartic process in many ways. But overall, it could be for anybody.
6) How does identity affect gender?
As children, most girls are encouraged to play with dolls and pursue careers long touted to being feminine like teaching or nursing while boys are encouraged to focus more on manly stuff like playing with toy cars, masking emotion and being real doctors as opposed to just being nurses. This programs their minds as they grow up because they’ve already been conditioned as to how they "should" act. The fact that someone is a man or a woman therefore should never determine how we choose to think about them because gender is just but a social construct.